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Honor Brigade #1 Review

Tom Stillwell’s new comic, Honor Brigade, came out this week from his own comic company, Spinner Rack Comics. It is an interesting start, although Stillwell clearly has a lot of growth as a writer for the comic to be a top book, but I enjoy the spirit and tone of Stillwell’s work, enough so that I think he will be able to achieve that growth.

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The first issue introduces us to a hero named Toy Boy. Here, then, though, is a major drawback of the first issue (probably THE biggest drawback). The book is called Honor Brigade, right? The book is about a team of superheroes. Know how I know that? Not from the comic, that’s for sure! I read an interview Stillwell gave at ComicBloc, and I saw a pin-up at the end of the issue that showed a group of heroes I presume are the Honor Brigade.

In the comic, though, there is not even a hint that this is the formation of a superhero team.
I do not expect a team to be formed, or even heroes meet each other, but something more than just featuring a single hero without any mention of other heroes. This bit of mystery is highlighted by the fact that Toy Boy’s actions PERIOD are mysterious. He is attacking a company that is presumably owned by bad guys, which is fine. But when you aren’t clear about the formation of the team OR what Toy Boy is doing, then what you have is a first issue of an entirely new comic with no real hints of what it going on.

Like Stillwell, artist Bradley Bowers certainly has some talent, but it seems like it needs to be honed a bit. Check out this sample page…

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Bowers does some nice linework, but his sequentials need to be worked on. That is not a huge deal, though, as sequential work is usually the one thing that artists routinely improve upon, the more they do it (while linework often can be a “You either have it or you don’t” type of thing).

Probably the highlight of the book is Stillwell’s work with a minor character in the book – the alcoholic security guard at the company Toy Boy is attacking. The bad guys want to eliminate him because he knows about Toy Boy’s attack, but could the former cop have the gumption to do something about what he saw? I am always impressed when writers take minor characters that could just be simple caricatures (“the drunk security guard”) and actually DO something with them.

Perhaps because of the similarities of the character, but most likely because of the tone of the book, this first issue reminds me of of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City – that same sense of “all ages, but not childish” that Astro City evokes is exactly what Tom Stillwell gets across in Honor Brigade.

A tighter plot, and some stronger sequential artwork, and Honor Brigade will be a refreshing, fun comic book.

For now, I wouldn’t recommend it just yet, but the future of this book is bright.

8 Comments

Highlit? Your brain is too robotic for its own good!

Even after Paul pointing it out, my brain still was telling me, “What? Highlit sounds good to me!” :)

It’s corrected now!

Well for a start, “Honour” is spelt wrong…

Hey, if Teddy Roosevelt says to drop the “u”, you drop that freaking “u”!

Well, when he gets elected Prime Minister over here, he can do just that…

Oh. Right. ;-)

To be quite honest, a dead ex-US president would be a whole heap better than what we have now.

Like Brian, I also purchased and read the comic. I agree with almost everything he has to say, but I have some additional criticisms:

–It was hard to even identify Toyboy as a hero. His behavior resembled the things a villain would do, and didn’t seem heroic by any means. It’s a sign of bad storytelling when a writer turns in a completed script and it’s impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys. That’s supposed to be Comics Writing 101.

–There is almost no sense of motive at work. For a first issue, there is not enough establishing work done. This is even more egregious since these are not characters with a long publishing history behind them. It’s the reader’s introduction to the Spinner Rack universe, and no frame-of-referene is provided. The reader has almost no idea what is going on — who are these characters and why are they doing these things? A whole lot more explanation was required but sadly absent.

–In terms of the art, the inking is mediocre. In the sample page above, you can see several lines that are far too thin to reproduce properly. Take a look at the security guard’s hair, his jacket, and the motion lines around his head — so many lines fade out because not enough attention was given to line weight (this scan is an accurate representation of what I see in the comic book as well.) Taking the extra effort to ink a line properly is a sign of professionalism.

–To echo what Brian said about artist’s storytelling, there are several sequences in the book where not enough thought was given to how to lay out the page. In particular, the page after Toyboy is shot and he disarms the guard. Panels are shown in close-up making the narrative disjointed and confusing, when wider shots with far more detail was needed.

–If there was a piece of advice that would apply equally to both the writer and the artist, it’s a simple lesson from cinema: Establishing Shots Are Essential. You need to be able to show the reader what is going on. Leaving out information is a serious flaw that hinders the entire reading experience.

On the plus side, there seems to be genuine effort behind the project, and it wasn’t painful to read(like Civil War, for example.) The writer and the artist both have some potential, but this was an issue that would have greatly benfited from an experienced, objective editor who could have looked at the story with some detachment and explained the conspicuous flaws before it was sent to the printer.

I will probably pick up the second issue, but I hope to see substantial progress in order to keep going past that…

Excellent critiques, Roel.

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